Poland violated European Union laws by logging in Białowieża forest, court rules

Erika Holt
April 18, 2018

Poland's rightwing government broke the law by logging in one of Europe's last primeval forests, the EU's top court ruled on Tuesday, setting up a fresh clash between Warsaw and Brussels.

Environmentalists say large-scale felling of trees in Bialowieza Forest - a UNESCO World Heritage site - destroyed rare animal habitats and plants in violation of European Union regulations.

"The forest management operations concerning the Puszcza Bialowieska Natura 2000 site that have been undertaken by Poland infringe EU law", the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said in a statement.

Under the EU's Habitat Directive, member states must take appropriate conservation measures for special areas.

Poland argued that its decision to increase logging was necessary to combat beetle infestation.

At least 10,000 trees have been felled in Białowieża, one of Europe's last parcels of primaeval woodland, since the former Polish environment minister, Jan Szyzko tripled logging limits there in 2016.

Warsaw stopped the logging earlier this year as part of the broader campaign to improve ties with the EU. They held protests and brought the case before the court past year.

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The Bialowieza Forest became a World Heritage Site in 1979 and was expanded several times thereafter, most recently in 2014.

"The Polish government should consider enlarging the national park", said James Thornton, head of the environmental campaign group ClientEarth.

Environmental protection activists and European Union experts say the large-scale felling of trees destroys rare animal habitats and plants, in violation of regulations.

Though an English translation of the ruling is not available, a press release on the case from the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg says that Poland ramped up timber harvesting in the Bialowieza Forest to curtail an infestation of bark beetle.

The forest covers hundreds of thousands of acres in Poland and Belarus, and is home to hundreds of animal and plant species, including bison, lynx, moss and lichen.

The European court ordered Poland to pay court costs.

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